Gov. Bill Walker reflects on his 4 years in office
Come Monday, Dec. 3, Alaskans will welcome their 12th governor, Mike Dunleavy, a Republican from Wasilla.
For now, Gov. Bill Walker and his team are focused on a smooth transition of power.
But the governor did take time to sit down with Rhonda McBride, host of KTVA’s Frontiers program, to reflect on the past four years.
Below is an excerpt from the interview, edited for length, that looks back at the state’s fiscal crisis, which struck just as Walker took office – when oil dropped to $24 dollars a barrel.
Rhonda McBride: What would the Bill Walker of today tell the Bill Walker who was just moving into this office into this office four years ago?
Gov. Bill Walker: One is you can't control the fiscal situation. You have to deal with it. You have to deal with it head on.
Rhonda McBride: When you have a sudden crash in your income, it sort of throws everything that you planned in upheaval.
Gov.Bill Walker: You have to focus on money first. Someone asked me what is one of my goals or visions as governor — and this was a couple of years ago. I said I never want to have any governor, future governor, ever having to make decisions I’ve had to make.
Rhonda McBride: It seems to me that when we have these fiscal crises, that it consumes so much energy — that oftentimes our leaders aren’t able to focus on the future.
Gov. Bill Walker: Stability is the future. We will leave a balanced budget. And it’s balanced because we reduced spending by $1.4 billion, we closed 40 facilities, laid off 3,000 people. You know, we did the hard stuff.
Rhonda McBride: So as an outgoing governor, what advice would you give to future administrations about the importance of stability?
Gov. Bill Walker: Make decisions today about the future of Alaska, not your political future.
Rhonda McBride: When there was polling done before the election, people said there was no way you could win — that you were so unpopular, partly due to your decision to trim Permanent Fund dividends. Do you think that history will remember you much more kindly?
Gov. Bill Walker: You know, I don't know. But you know, sometimes you have to make a decision about what is — is it the right thing to do? And that’s how I made that decision. It’s the right thing to do, but not for me, but for Alaska.
Rhonda McBride: But do you regret taking that step? It might have cost you your election.
Gov. Bill Walker: Somebody had to be the leader and step up and say we can't continue on the course we were on, where the dividend program is going to go away.
Somebody had to step up and say, we need to do something and it's going to be unpleasant. We need to do it. And if the price for that is I’m here for four years, rather than eight years, I can live with that.
Rhonda McBride: But in the end, do you feel that was the right decision?
Gov. Bill Walker: There really wasn’t any other decision. Tough, tough time to be governor — the toughest I think, quite honestly, in our state’s history. But that’s OK. I came to do the job. I believe we did the job. Part of the proof is that we handed over a balanced budget.
Rhonda McBride: The next governor is not going to face a deficit. They may be able to take advantage of your work on the gas line, so you’ve kind of cued things up. That must be bittersweet for you.
Gov. Bill Walker: I hope that they’re hugely successful. I hope it happens on their watch. I would celebrate you know instantaneously if a gasline happened on Gov. Dunleavy’s watch, Gov. Parnell involved. It makes no difference to me, who gets credit for anything. It’s just that we get it done.
Rhonda McBride: A lot of people wonder, had Mark Begich not stepped in, that maybe you might have squeaked through and won a second term.
Gov. Bill Walker: I think I would have. And while there was a lot of frustration over the Permanent Fund dividend itself, there was a lot of folks out there, a lot of organizations that said, man we are finally on the right course. This had to be done by somebody.
I may not get as many votes as somebody else, but I’ve already won. I got to be the governor of the state of Alaska that I love, that I was born in.
I am so honored to have been the governor of the state of Alaska.
Once you get to the top of the mountain — to me, it’s not how long you stay there, that you actually got there. There are only 10 other Alaskans have had the honor to be the governor of this great state. I will always be appreciative of that opportunity.
Editor's note: More of Rhonda McBride’s interview with Gov. Bill Walker will air on Frontiers at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 2 on KTVA Channel 11. GCI Cable Channel 907 also carries Frontiers at 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 p.m.
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